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Publish Date: 8/29/2005

Denver running back Maurice Clarett was released Sunday. With Tuesday’s deadline for cutting the roster to 65 players looming, the Broncos wasted no time jettisoning the troubled running back.AP/Jack Dempsey

Clarett discarded
Broncos’ gamble on running back fails miserably

ENGLEWOOD — On Aug. 15th, Maurice Clarett was asked about his standing with the Denver Broncos.

The rookie was slowly nursing a groin injury, and he was believed to be losing ground in the race for a running back job.

Clarett tersely shot back, “I’m still on it.”

It appears that’s no longer the case. The Broncos have severed ties with the Ohio State product.

Clarett’s time in Denver is over before it really began. Clarett, the Broncos’ third-round pick, never played a down. The team was believed to be considering playing him Friday in the preseason finale against Arizona, but that plan was junked. Why prolong the inevitable?

Clarett was never fully accepted by the Broncos. The veterans on the team criticized him for taking too long to return from his groin injury. The Broncos even kept him home when they made a trip to Houston.

Thanks to Clarett’s unorthodox contract, the decision to cut him won’t cost the Broncos much cash. Given his spot in the draft, Clarett was scheduled to make $410,000 in signing bonus.

However, Clarett felt like he was worth first-round money and wanted to be paid accordingly. He opted to forego the up-front signing bonus for $7 million in possible incentives over the life of his four-year contract.

By cutting him loose now, the Broncos don’t owe Clarett a dime.

The only thing that remains to be seen is whether Clarett winds up with another organization. Once he clears waivers — it will take 24 hours — teams can sign him, but must take on his four-year contract. Teams like Cleveland, Dallas and Jacksonville showed interest on draft day and may sign the maligned back.

If no one signs Clarett, he could be signed to Denver’s practice squad, or that of another team.

On April 23 at 7:59 p.m., the Broncos stunned the NFL world by closing out day one of the draft by selecting Clarett. How things have changed since Clarett was selected.

Denver knew Clarett came with plenty of baggage. He hadn’t played a down in two years thanks to a grocery list of problems at Ohio State.

On the advice of running backs coach Bobby Turner, the team overlooked Clarett’s checkered past. The Broncos swept things like falsifying a police report, receiving benefits from a family friend, suing the NFL to gain entrance into the league and claiming OSU coach Jim Tressel arranged for him to get passing grades right under the rug.

“The slate’s clean,” Shanahan said at the time of the draft. “We’re giving him an opportunity.”

Clarett appreciated that chance.

“I can’t wait to start working,” said Clarett, who rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 scores his freshman year with the Buckeyes. “I’m excited to get out there and start working.”

But a nagging groin injury kept him off the field, and Clarett never got the chance to show what he could do for Denver.

According to CBS-TV, quarterback Danny Kanell, defensive linemen Raylee Johnson and Luther Ellis, tight end Patrick Hape, receivers Romar Crenshaw and B.J. Johnson are among some of the names that will be released Tuesday.

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